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Our View: A tough job and sad ending

The Union Editorial Board

No one should have to lose a loved one and not know what happened.

That was case for people who knew Juan Almanza Zavala, 36, and Janette Pantoja, 29, both of whom were missing for over a week last month. Kiely Rodni, a 16-year-old Truckee teen who disappeared Aug. 6, was found about two weeks after her disappearance. All three were deceased.

Zavala and Pantoja were found in a wrecked vehicle. Rodni was in her vehicle, about 14 feet under the waters of Prosser Reservoir.

For that span of days, in both those cases, no one had answers. Authorities and volunteers searched. Signs were placed on utility poles and websites. The community watched and waited, hoping the missing would be found.

Instead, three families and countless loved ones had to bear the news that Zavala, Pantoja and Rodni weren’t coming back safely. Now those loved ones, and those of us who never knew the deceased, must shoulder their absence and the vacuum it’s made.

Anyone with a passing interest in local news knew about the missing people. News about Rodni specifically spread quickly in the region, and then went nationwide. All eyes were on Nevada County and its law enforcement as efforts to find the three people kept garnering headlines.

It would be easy at this point to throw stones at law enforcement. If you’ve followed these cases online, you’ve no doubt seen a few rocks thrown their way. Why didn’t they search the area where the cell phones last pinged more thoroughly? How do you miss a vehicle underwater mere yards from where Rodni was last seen? Why did it take a volunteer dive team to locate her?

If you’ve seen the criticism, you better believe law enforcement has. The question about Rodni’s proximity to the party where she was last seen was asked of Nevada County authorities during a press conference. An official stated then that they needed to debrief to determine just that.

That’s just one reason why after-action reports should be done on both missing persons cases. Bring in a third party to do them, and have those reports respond specifically to any criticisms. Then make them public.

In most cases, including this one, the outrage and criticism appears multiplied because it’s loud. The simple notes of “thanks” online, or the quiet thankfulness most of us have toward law enforcement, is drowned out by the negative.

But law enforcement can be assured that the majority of this community stand behind it and its efforts in keeping us safe and working to find our loved ones when they go missing. Sometimes that requires the help of a group like Adventures with Purpose, the team that found Rodni and her vehicle. You can be certain our law enforcement is thankful it stepped in.

But now the searches are over, and the families of Zavala, Pantoja and Rodni have some closure.

They also, hopefully, have quiet and solitude, if that’s what they want. The days of missing people appearing only on milk cartons are gone. We now live in an age where anyone can find you, and communicate with you, from any distance. These families have dealt with enough. It’s done. Let it stay done.

And let’s hope that out of this tragedy comes some good — that law enforcement targets any issues it had in these searches and corrects them, and that any errors that occurred are not repeated in future searches.

Because the next time someone goes missing — and there will be a next time — we want it to end in tears of happiness, with families brought together once again.

Reunited and safe.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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